rook pawn

Endgame Fundamentals: Winning With the Rook Pawn

By Donny Gray

In the large majority of endings, the winning idea is to queen a pawn.  This of course can be very hard, as your opponent will not go quietly and will do everything he can to stop you.  Today we will take a look at a situation when you are up a rook pawn.

The rook’s pawn is the hardest of all to promote to a queen for many reasons.   The main one is  your king can only be either in front, in back, or on one side of the pawn.  With a center pawn, for example, the king can be in front, in back, or on either side of the pawn.  Doesn’t sound like a big difference, but it is huge!

Many of these situations are won for the side with the extra pawn.  However, many are drawn even with perfect play.  Let’s take a look at some examples.

donny 1
In our first example, we see the main draw back to having just a rook pawn.  If black can get to the squares b8 or a8 as in this example, it is a dead draw.  White cannot win, ever!  Let’s take a look at a possible try for white from this starting point.

1.Kb6        Ka8
2.a6          Kb8
3.a7+        Ka8

Now white has a choice between Ka6 stalemate or Kc6 which loses the pawn.  Draw either way.

There is no thinking at all for black, as you can see.  All he has to do is go back and forth from b8 to a8.

What is an eye-opener for most students is that even if you add a bishop to the above example, you still cannot win if that bishop is the wrong color.  By wrong color, we mean that the bishop does not cover the queening square of the pawn.  In this case white.  If white has a black-squared bishop it is still impossible to win!

donny 2

As soon as you start looking at this position you realize that you have really nothing to try.  Again, black just goes back and forth from b8 to a8.  There are stalemates everywhere.

1.Be5+        Ka8
2.Kb6         Stalemate


1.a6            Ka8
2.Kb6        Kb8
3.Be5+      Ka6

And white has no way to continue without stalemating or just backing off, which accomplishes nothing.

Armed with this bit of knowledge we now can turn to a more complicated problem.

donny 3

At first glance this looks like a piece of cake.  How hard can it be?  Just get the two pawns rolling and white should win!  If you know that rook pawns cannot win even if they have a bishop, it gives black a few tricks here.  For example:

1.Be4        Bc8
2.Bf3        Bd7
3.g4?        Bg4!!

And even though white is a pawn and bishop ahead, he cannot win.  All black has to do is head for the corner which white cannot stop.  With the wrong color bishop this is a dead draw.

It is therefore necessary to always make sure that black cannot sacrifice his bishop for the g pawn.  The way to win would go something like the following:

1.Be4        Bc8
2.h5          Kf6
3.h6          Kf7
4.Kf4        Kg8
5.Bf5         Ba6
6.g4          Be2
7.g5           Bh5
8.Be6+     Kh7
9.Kf5        Bg6+
10.Kf6      Bh5
11.Bf7       Bd1
12.g6+      Kh6
13.g7         Bc2
14.g8-Q    Bb1

Now let’s move on to rook endings with the rook’s pawn.  The next example happens a lot in tournament games.  White is a pawn up but black has been checking the white king.  Seems the only way to hide from the checks is in front of the pawn.  But being in front of the pawn hinders white from queening!  And even though black cannot check anymore, he just puts his rook on the b file so that the white king is stuck.  So what to do?

donny 4

Although this position is very common, it will always have an important difference.  It all depends upon where the black king is located.  If it is too far away, then white can win.

In this example, it is a dead draw but there are ways for black to go horribly wrong.

1.Rh2         Kd7
2.Rh8        Kc6??

This throws the draw away.  It is just this small mistake that white needs in order to win.

3.Rc8+        Kd7
4.Rb8          Rg1
5.Kb7           Rb1+
6.Ka6          Ra1+
7.Kb6          Rb1+

And black loses big time.

Now back to the original position.  Let’s see how black could have drawn this position.

1.Rh2         Kd7
2.Rh8        Kc7!
Big difference!

3.Rg8         Rh1

Any move by black on the 1st rank works just as well.

4.Rg7+        Kc8
5.Rg2          Rc1
6.Rh2          Rc3

White can never drive the king away from the squares c7 & c8.


Now in the next example, black’s king is too far away.  The win is easy.

donny 5

1.Rd3         Kf7
2.Rd8        Ke7
3.Rb8        Re2
4.Kb7        Rb2+
5.Kc6        Rc2+

Black’s checks will soon run out and white will queen.  White wins.

donny 6

In this last example it appears that black may be close enough to draw.  But white has a few tricks up his sleeve to pull out the win.

1.Rc2        Ke7
2.Rc8        Kd7
3.Rb8        Rh1
4.Kb7        Rb1+
5.Ka6        Ra1+
6.Kb6        Rb1+
7.Kc5  and wins

Another try for black:

1.Rc2        Ke7
2.Rc8        Kd6
3.Rb8        Rh1
4.Kb7        Rb1+
5.Kc8        Rc1+
6.Kd8        Rh1

Not 7.Ke8 as Rh8+ and Rh7+ wins the pawn

7……          Kc5
8.Rc6+!    Kb5

Of course not Kc6, as a8-Q+ wins the black rook!

9.Rc8         Rh8+
10.Kc7        Rh7+
11.Kb8   and the pawn promotes.


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